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Deployed parents see their children open toys

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) — The opportunity to spend time and celebrate the holiday season with family and friends should not be taken for granted. Sharing a deployment with a spouse during this time can be a blessing and provide comfort especially when separated from little ones.

Master Sgt. Shalenna Mitchell, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing finance budget analyst and Tech. Sgt. Randle Mitchell, 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron assistant chief of fire prevention, share their experiences and feelings during the holiday season while deployed at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia.

“I was at a different location for the first two months of our deployment and then forward deployed here with my husband,” said Shalenna. “Having each other during the holidays lessens the homesick feelings most (service members) have during this time of year.”

The Mitchells have three young boys; Rashawn, eight years old, and twin toddlers, Ryan and Stefan, 21 months. The boys are being cared for by Randles’ mother and aunt back home.

“We did not have to change much,” said Randle. “Our kids are at home and did not have to move or change the school and daycare they go to.”

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Typically, the Mitchells see their boys before school and daycare every day via video chat, and then again when the boys return home. Fortunately, communication has been more frequent recently due to Christmas break in the states.

“Our oldest has not expressed to us, but has told a few people that he misses us and is ready for us to come home,” said Shalenna.

The Mitchells are at the tail end of their rotation here and have invested 15-years to the Air Force. They are deployed from the 19th Airlift Wing, Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, with five deployments between them. Their plan is to continue their journey with the Air Force and retire serving their country.

“The Air Force is all we’ve known as adults,” said Shalenna. “We’ve pushed this far, so it’s no question that we would continue on to retirement. We’ve accomplished a lot in our careers and most of what we’ve experienced has molded us into the people and leaders we are today.”

The couple will not be home for the holidays this year but say they are grateful for having each other and for their family support system to step in and care for their three children. They also had advice for couples preparing to deploy.

“Always make sure you have a valid family care plan,” said Randle. “We knew there was a possibility of being deployed at the same time and in 14-years it was never the case until now. Many people work long hours here and have different shifts. Enjoy that quality time with each other and get a routine that works for you both and it will help the time pass quickly.”

Randle and Shalenna are one of five military married couples currently deployed to the air base who have married quarters available for them to live together.

“This is my first deployment where I’ve seen quarters for married couples available,” said Master Sgt. Celeste Fletes, 386th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron lodging flight chief. “They should reach out to their first sergeant to prepare the reservation or request when a couple finds out they are deploying here to ensure a room is available for them once they arrive.”

The Mitchells stated that they were happy to watch their kids open their presents on Christmas day and that their deployment experience has been accommodating for their family. Having the internet available to communicate with their children daily made it better.

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